Municipal Impact Investing: Making an Impact on Education

January 13, 2022
4 min watch

Marc Uy: One of the things that we like to do is to make sure that our investments are very specific—that they have intentionality behind each investment. Because, for us, it’s not just about how the dollars are being spent, but what are the outcomes involved after those dollars are spent?

Matt Norton: Marc, thank you for joining us today. Impact investing spans the realm of environmental, social and governance—and I know you focus a lot on the educational, the social aspect of that. Could you talk to us a little bit about how you think about education and how impact investors can make a difference?

MU: So, in the United States, roughly 15% of all Americans deal with some level of hearing loss. And if you’re a child that falls into this category, that can really have an impact on your academic, your social and [your] emotional learning, and that can really, really affect a child’s outcome. And, consequently, the employment gap between hearing and non-hearing individuals is about 22.5%.

So, now comes an institution such as Gallaudet University in Washington, DC, where they are the only liberal arts college in the world that is focused specifically on helping the deaf, the hard-of-hearing or the deaf-blind community.

In their most recent offering, they use a portion of their debt to fund a student dorm. And not just any student dorm, but a dorm that was geared towards deaf-space guidelines. Something that was developed at Gallaudet University with the deaf-space guidelines: they’re all about making sure that the built environment is architecturally structured in a way that is conducive for that population for the deaf and hard of hearing.

MN: Education, of course, spans an entire range from when you’re very young, all the way through university. Tell us about an interesting investment that you’re making in the K through 12 age as well.

MU: According to the CDC, in 2020, one out of 54 kids were diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum disorder. And what we know about primary and secondary schools are that they are ill-equipped from a resource and from a curriculum perspective to be able to support the needs of this population.

So, here comes Arizona Autism Charter School, the only free and public school dedicated to this particular population. And they do so by being able to provide them with all the educational supports that they need, that they normally wouldn’t be able to get from their public school system. So, what Arizona Autism School does, especially in their high school program, is that they prepare the kids there for the next phase in life. Is that going to be college? Is that going to be a vocational career for them? Whatever it may be, they are setting up these tailored educational training programs for each one of these individuals so that they have a life after school.

MN: So, you’re not only providing good investment performance. You’re also doing good in the world at the same time.

MU: And, for each place, they’re going to have their own individual key performance indicators that are specifically geared towards them. Because, as an investor, it wouldn’t make any sense for me to apply just general nationwide guidelines when these are issues that affect communities, that affect communities within each state, communities within each region. Every community is going to have a different set of needs.

MN: So educational inequity is something that impact investors focus on. Can you talk to us about an investment that you’ve made in an underserved community?

MU: If we’re going to talk about education for kids, we need to address the fact that not every kid is able to start from the same place. One of the other investments that we’ve been proud to make has been in the Dallas Independent School District.

What Dallas ISD is really trying to do is that they’re trying to take this inequity that exists with their kids, and they’re trying to figure out what can we do beyond just simply providing them with a quality education in just new school buildings. And they’re dealing with housing insecurity, food insecurity—everything is just not set up for them to be in the right frame of mind so that, once they enter school, they’re going to do the best that they can.

What Dallas is doing is they’re looking to provide these wraparound services through providing mental health services, legal services, access to nutritional food, the creation of safe infrastructure through playgrounds or community centers, to be able to give these children a more stable environment, to really try to do what they can to reduce those inequity gaps that exist well before a child walks into school. If you’re able to provide these supports in a productive and effective way, that really gives a child a chance to succeed.

The views expressed herein do not constitute research, investment advice or trade recommendations and do not necessarily represent the views of all AB portfolio-management teams. Views are subject to change over time.

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